NOTE: This post contains material that is not safe to view at work. Specifically, numerous panty and bra shorts from a Japanese miniseries featuring girls who are clearly underage because GOSH DANGIT JAPAN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.
A popular urban legend says that famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki once said that anime was a mistake. Considering how the most popular stereotype of anime depicts of being crammed full with underage girls whose panties and bras are frequently visible, that quote might be on to something. If nothing else, it gives the impression that Japan is full of sexual deviants who are desperate to find any excuse to feature schoolgirls in morally questionable outfits, and that’s before all the tentacles show up.
This short miniseries does nothing to dispel that stereotype:
Well, that’s… something. Let’s break it down and see what writers can learn from girls who turn into vehicles.
What the video does well:
*It does an excellent job with random humor
The best thing about this miniseries is that it masterfully uses a random joke so well: the idea of girls turning into cars, fighter jets, and ships for the flimsiest of reasons, complete with over-the top transformation scenes, leaving a non-transforming onlooker to stare on in stunned silence. While humor relying on sudden, over-the-top elements at random times doesn’t always work, it can provide some great laughs, especially if it’s so ridiculous it has no chance of being taken seriously.
*It does a great job portraying laughably ineffective powers
My favorite video in the series features one girl transforming into a battleship to save another girl on a sinking life raft, complete with the music, the elaborate changing sequence, and falling into the ocean… only to reveal that the battleship is only two feet long, making it all-but-useless when it comes to actually rescuing girls stuck on sinking life rafts in the middle of the ocean, ensuring that she’ll die a miserable, watery death.
This use of a giant buildup with a pitifully weak payoff is one of my favorite comedic acts, because when we think something is going to be awesome, intentionally subverting it for comedic effect can almost always get a belly laugh, like superpowers that turn someone into popcorn.
What doesn’t work as well:
*It sexualizes underage girls, complete with numerous shots of their underwear.
Excuse me for a moment.
*Goes off and drinks bleach*
Okay… let’s do this.
If the girls in the videos above wore normal clothes, like jeans or long-sleeved shirts, and we didn’t see their undergarments when they changed, it would be a lot less creepy. It wouldn’t leave me feeling like this guy. Unless you’re willing to risk being labeled a closeted pedophile, don’t have any underage characters do anything that could even be remotely considered sexual. Tight clothes, bra shots, panty shots, ridiculously tiny skirts that no one would or should wear in real life – including all these things in your work is only asking for trouble and possible visits from your friendly neighborhood police officers.
The Bottom Line:
NEVER, EVER FEATURE UNDERAGE CHARACTERS IN ANYTHING REMOTELY SEXUAL ARG.
We continue our examination of the duels of ‘The Matrix’ saga this week with a look at the animated anthology film, ‘The Animatrix,’ which, like ‘Enter the Matrix,’ presents several side stories that help flesh out to the film’s universe. Unlike other entries in the series, it’s light on duels, having just two of them, but one of them is one of the series’ best.
Thadeus and Jue spar
Emotional Context: A ship’s captain and his lover spar for fun and relaxation (and possibly sex)
Analysis: If you’re looking for an attention-grabbing way to start off a story, it’s hard to go with a swordfight where both participants are blindfolded, phenomenally skilled with swords, and whose preferred method of foreplay is slicing each other’s clothes off… only to have their fun interrupted by homicidal robot squid.
Storywise, this duel helps to establish Jue and Thadeus’ skills in the Matrix; specifically, their agility and coordination, which will come in handy when Jue pulls off some extremely harrowing jumps that would leave anyone else with shattered legs. But what’s more important – and subtle – is that it establishes their emotional bond. Both are so comfortable with each other that they’re willing to swing swords at each other for fun, and that familiarity and affection adds to the stakes as the two fight to ensure Zion will know of the oncoming attack by the machines: Thadeus works to keep their attackers at bay long enough for Jue to complete her drop. Both know what’s at stake, and trust in each other to complete their missions. They do, but at the cost of their lives.
Duo attempts to convince Cis to re-enter the Matrix
Emotional Context: A man attempts to convince his friend to re-enter the Matrix
Analysis: Of all the duels in the Matrix trilogy, few have the fight itself be so integral to the story. In this instance, ‘Program’ is all about such a duel, balancing swordplay with emotional sparring as one character attempts to persuade a friend to join him in abandoning Zion and re-entering the Matrix, with the emotions and destruction increasing in pitch until the climax. There are no wasted shots here; everything is tight, focused, and constantly moves the story forward, without any action for the sake of action, eventually culminating in the revelation that the whole thing was a training exercise.
What I like about this duel is how it manages a perfect balance between action and the conflict between the two characters, a conflict that makes us, the viewer, ask if we would want to go back to an fake world or live in a harsh, hard one: While Cis is told she passed the test, I couldn’t help but be struck by the saying, ‘What’s real doesn’t matter; what matters is how we live our lives.’ It made us wonder if there is a correct answer to the test. People aligned with Zion would say that reality is more important, while those in the Matrix would say otherwise. When duels make their viewers ponder their own philosophical views long after the movie is over, it proves that some of the best fights are about a clash of ideas, and not bloodshed.
However, while this is an excellent duel, I personally think that Duo is perhaps attacking a bit too hard here; if you’re trying to convince someone to abandon their life and join you, trying to chop them in half is not a good way to do it. However, this can be interpreted as Duo’s increasing anger at Cis’ refusal to join him, so your millage may vary. Still, it’s worth remembering that a character generally won’t convince another to join her/him/it by trying to kill them. Better to play around with them instead of trying to hack off body parts.
Tune in next week where we’ll take a look at the final film in the Matrix series, ‘The Matrix Revolutions.’
Last week, we took a look at… You know what, you know the drill by now.
1. Consider making the backstory behind your monster something your audience won’t expect
For the first four films, the Sharknado series has stuck with the idea that the sharknadoes are an entirely natural phenomenon. ‘Global Swarming’ bucks that trend by revealing that sharknadoes are actually a supernatural phenomenon caused by a shark god that humanity has fought in the past, and defeated. In as serious series, this would be pretty far-fetched, but the dopey nature of the Sharknado series makes this a plausible twist that retroactively paints the series as humanity’s latest fight against a supernatural menace trying to wipe us out, giving the series a bigger feel, in that there’s more going on beyond what we see in the films.
2. Give your character/s a good reason to chase after the monster.
One of the hardest hurtles to overcome in monster movie sequels is giving the hero a valid reason to chase after a monster that any sane person would run away from. ‘Global Swarming’ is one of the few monster sequels I’ve seen that gives the leads a legitimate and logical reason to do so: Finn and April’s son have been sucked by a sharknado that can teleport around the globe, forcing them to give chase in order to save him. Thus, they’re not motivated by greed, revenge, or wanting to destroy the menace once and for all, but to save a loved one, a motive that everyone can relate to and understand.
3. Take advantage of exotic locations, but make sure they advance the story
Where the four previous Sharknado films took place entirely within the United States (and outer space), ‘Global Swarming’ finally takes the toothy menace across the globe, including England, Switzerland, Italy, Australia, Japan, and Egypt. Predictably, this allows the film to poke fun at the various attractions at each location, the most enjoyable of which is Finn leading the charge to save the Queen at Buckingham Palace, a brief sojourn in Africa where we have lions vs sharks, and the statue of Christ the Redeemer literally giving Finn and April a hand as they continue to try and save their son.
However, when your characters go to exotic locations, make sure their adventures advance the story: ‘Global Swarming’s sequence in Switzerland, which features a steampunk zeppelin and lots of skiing and dog mushing, feels like padding. While an action sequence may have plenty of cool-looking action, if it doesn’t advance the story or characters, it will ultimately be padding. Cool-looking padding, but padding nonetheless.
3. Consider giving a long-running sidekick a less-than-honorable motivation (and then let them redeem themselves)
Nova’s role in the Sharknado series is to be the action girl unfettered by a family or loved ones beyond Finn, and ‘Global Swarming’ puts her in command of the Sharknado Sisters, a cavort group dedicated to wiping out sharknadoes. But then it’s revealed that what Nova wants is pure revenge: to kill every shark on earth, even if she has to give up on rescuing Finn’s son, Gil. Considering that sharks killed her grandfather and nearly ate her, it’s understandable that Nova would want to kill an entire species, but such a revelation retroactively makes her a darker character.
However, the movie does give her redemption and the chance to balance out her bloodlust: Nova is the reason Gil gets sucked into the sharknado, and she tries to save him in Tokyo, but fails and dies, but not before reconciling with Finn and April, proving that when it comes to redemption quests, the effort of just trying is just as important as if the character succeeds or not.
5. When all else fails, throw in an athlete using his/her skills to help save the day
Is your story sagging by the middle of the second act? Are you trying and failing to find a way to sustain your audience’s interest? Why not try throwing in a random cameo by an athlete using their skills to help save the day? In a film filled with sharks in tornadoes attacking multiple countries, the pope giving out laser-firing chainsaws, and ancient shark gods, the most random moment may be Tony Hawk appearing out of nowhere in Australia and using his skateboarding skills to help fully transform the Sidney Opera House into an anti-sharknado weapons platform. Does it make any sense? Not really. But it is memorable and amusing to see him use skateboarding to help fight a sharknado, similar to how Gymkata features an Olympic gymnast defeating bad guys with gymnastics and conveniently placed horizontal bars and pommel horses in city plazas and alleyways.
6. When introducing an evil organization/villain, give them some motivations and goals
When in Brazil, Finn and April learn more about the ancient artifact that can be used to control sharknadoes. But it isn’t long before a shady man sneaks in and steals it, prompting an inter-continental chase to Rome where Finn takes on the bad guy and gets the artifact back. However, this man’s appearance feels almost like an afterthought: he appears without any foreshadowing, and is dispatched quickly a few minutes later without having any real effect on the story, aside from getting Finn and April to Rome. I got the impression that he’s part of an evil organization that wants to control sharknadoes, but this story idea is never pursed or given any development.
While it’s acceptable to have antagonists appear suddenly in stories to accost and badger our protagonists, it’s important to give the reader some sense of who they are and what they want. Even if they have the coolest looks, the baddest weapons, and the most awesome equipment, it’s still important to give them a motivation, rather than being a random goon who leaves as quickly as he or she appears.
7. Dramatic moments have a heavier impact in comedy
‘Global Swarming’ starts off like all the previous Sharknado films, focusing on jokes, goofy and outlandish attacks, and the like. But when the film gets into its third act, it takes a sudden turn into the dramatic: Nova fails to save Gil from the sharknado and dies; Fin’s entire family is killed by sharknadoes, and then the film kills not only April, but everyone else on Earth, leaving Finn the world’s sole survivor. And there’s no comedy or jokes to any of these scenes: they’re all played straight, resulting in what may be the most emotionally effective moments in any Scyfi/Asylum film to date.
What makes these moments effective is how unexpected they are; we, the audience, watch comedies to laugh and feel good, which makes the sudden introduction of drama and death catches us off guard. It’s one thing to watch characters die in dramas and thrillers; we expect it. Having a dramatic moment in a comedy and not playing it for laughs will get people’s attention because of how unexpected it is.
8. When people lose their loved ones, make sure they grieve
While ‘Global Swarming’s dramatic moments are effective, I couldn’t help but feel that Finn and April don’t grieve enough when they learn that their entire family is dead, especially when Finn hears his older son die on the phone while talking to him. Such an event should drive them to their knees and crush their spirits, and the only reason they could even go on is fueled purely by wanting to get revenge on the sharks, with all thoughts of saving humanity thrown aside.
When your character’s loved ones die, make sure we see them grieve. The struggle of having to go on even when all they want to do is collapse makes us sorry for them, yet we can admire them for continuing on after going through what is arguably the most traumatic thing a human can ever experience.
9. When you have a downer ending, strongly consider having a ray of hope
‘Global Swarming’ ends with everyone on Earth dead except for Finn. Had the film ended there, it would have the most shocking ending in the series to date. However, there is a faint thread of hope as he meets – thanks to time travel shenanigans – his now grown son and heads back in time to save everyone else.
In fiction, downer endings are pretty much guaranteed to stay with people long after the story is over, for both good or ill. While they are memorable because they go against the expectation of having a happy ending, or, at least, a bittersweet one, there’s also no escaping the fact that they’re depressing, making it hard to come back to the story again and again. However, if the characters, and the reader, have the smallest thread of hope that things will get better, that can transform a terrible situation into one where the audience will remember your story even more fondly than if there is no hope.
When doing a sequel in your monster series, consider exploring an unexpected background behind the monsters while taking advantage of traveling to exotic locations in pursuit of the monster for a noble goal, while making sure those travels contribute to the plot; along the way, make sure villains get some motivations and goals when they appear, and have your characters react realistically to losing everyone they love, and if your story has a downer ending, leaving a thread of hope that things will get better will go a long way to satisfying your audience.
Note: Due to missing ‘Sharknado 6: It’s About Time’s broadcasts, and that the film is not yet available on DVD or streaming, my critique of the film will have to wait until it is available. Until then, the series-wide analysis is on hold.